There should be a centre like this in every community – a reclaimed factory that has been turned into a community centre, with workshops and music studios.
There are thousands of such buildings lying empty up and down the country. In Lambeth, south London, local groups took one over. But now it is being closed down – the cruel victim of a decision by the London Development Authority to cut its funding.
On Tuesday the lease for the Offley Works building ran out. But many of those who use the centre have decided to stay and fight it out.
Lloyd Coxsone is angry. He showed Socialist Worker around his workshop where he trains young people in how to build sound systems.
“It’s about teaching electronics and carpentry. I have a team of 15 young people who turn up and spend five hours on these projects,” he said.
Two years ago Coxsone was full of hope. The 60 year old had decided he wanted to spend his time passing on his skills to the young people in the borough. It is his small part in the battle against the despair and alienation he sees around him.
He was granted a space in the factory to start his project. “I hauled three skips of rubbish from the factory floor,” he said. “I cleaned the space and began to turn it into a proper workshop.”
This work is now suspended. Doors remain half painted, while an area set out for a video studio and rehearsal area has been left to the dust.
Coxsone showed off a stack of speakers painted in red, gold and green. In the centre of the room he had gathered his tools in preparation to leave.
But at some point he decided there was no choice but to stay and fight. “Offley Works gave us this space for free – I cannot afford to pay rent,” he said, reaching for a pile of picture frames made by the young people as part of their training. “All this will go. Everything will be lost.”
Sheila Simpson is from the Black Parents Forum. She spoke to an angry public meeting of 120 people on Monday night. “We want a safe building for our children,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”
To applause she added, “What kind of system is it that strips people of their safety and stability?”
Since it opened in 2005, the Offley Works centre has hosted an independent African school, Saturday classes, dance and music studios, and a place to hold meetings. It was becoming a magnet for community groups.
Lloyd Johnson is the chair of the Pan African Society. He told Socialist Worker that the centre became an important meeting point for political meetings, educationals and cultural events. “Even the Jamaican political parties have set up meetings here,” he said.
“The black and African population is disadvantaged – and now we have to pay for other people’s mistakes.”
Asher Senator is from Code7Music. His project works on training and development for young people. “This is devastating for us,” he said. “We train people from the age of nine to 28.
“We bring people together from different postcodes and overcome the divisions caused by gangs. A year ago we had young people walking in here wearing bullet proof vests – now they have turned their lives around.
“Last year we had 237 young people working on 374 music projects. We had hardcore members from key gangs working together. They were united in production.
“Losing this place means we lose a lot of scope – and a lot of power. We have to convince young people that we can offer them something. What they’re going to say is, ‘Yeah, it was a good idea – but they couldn’t pull it off’.”
Dr Aboo came down from London’s Galaxy radio. His message to the meeting was uncompromising. “They are making a war on us and putting our children in the frontline. This is treachery and we hold MPs and councillors responsible. It’s clear that we will not leave and must not leave.”
Kat Young, a Respect candidate for the London Assembly elections this May, was also at the meeting.
She said, “The government is always telling us that there’s a problem with youth, that many are neither in work or in training, that they hang around the streets.
“Yet they close down youth centres and community groups. If we decide to occupy this building then I will be down tomorrow with my tent and sleeping bag.”
Lindsey German, Respect’s candidate for London mayor, pledged her support for Offley Works at a hustings meeting held there last month.
The campaign to save Offley Works will hold events and meetings from 6pm every evening.